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Introduction

One of the beliefs that most Christians have is that God is “omniscient” – that is, that God knows everything. Some of the passages that are used to demonstrate this belief are as follows:

1 Samuel 2:3 (ESV):

3Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the LORD is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.

Proverbs 5:20-21 (ESV):

20Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
21For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD,
and he ponders all his paths.

Jeremiah 23:24 (ESV):

24 Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.

Job 31:1-4 (NIV):

1 “I made a covenant with my eyes
not to look lustfully at a young woman.
2 For what is our lot from God above,
our heritage from the Almighty on high?
3 Is it not ruin for the wicked,
disaster for those who do wrong?
4 Does he not see my ways
and count my every step?

Matthew 6:3-4 (ESV):

3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Hebrews 11:12-13 (ESV):

12For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

The above passages definitely indicate to me that God knows about every event that has ever occurred. In addition, those passages indicate that God knows our “hearts” – i.e., our thoughts and desires.

However, there is an additional question to consider, about this overall doctrine of “omniscience”. The question is, does God already know about every event that will take place, in the future?

In particular, does God already know – with 100% accuracy – all of the decisions that people will make, in the future – before we actually make those decisions?

From my experience, the majority of Christian denominations do believe that God does already know about every event that will occur, in the future.

In this post, I will refer to that belief as the “complete omniscience” doctrine.


Passages that affirm complete omniscience

There are certainly some passages in Scripture, which appear to indicate that God does know every decision that people will make, ahead of time. Here are two such passages:

Genesis 25:21-23 (ESV):

21And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23And the LORD said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the older shall serve the younger.”

Isaiah 44:24,28: (ESV):

24Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer,
who formed you from the womb:
“I am the LORD, who made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself,

28who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,
and he shall fulfill all my purpose’;
saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’
and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.'”

The passage in Genesis describes what will happen with Jacob and Esau, in the future – in particular, that Jacob will wind up “ruling” over Esau. Of course Jacob and Esau were still in their mother’s womb at the time. So, many churches state that this proves that God can foresee everyone’s actions, even before we are born.

The passage in Isaiah speaks about King Cyrus of Persia allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem, after the 70 year Babylonian captivity. Of course, that prophesy was made 150 years before Cyrus was even born! So, many churches believe that this proves that God has complete omniscience – because how else could God know what Cyrus would do, so far ahead of time?


Passages that deny complete omniscience

However, there are some other passages in Scripture, which appear to state that God does not know what decisions people will make ahead of time. Here are two of those passages:

Genesis 22:10-12 (ESV):

10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 12He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

Jeremiah 7:30-31 (ESV):

30“For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the LORD. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. 31And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.

The passage in Genesis relates how God told Abraham not to kill Isaac – because now He knows that Abraham fears God. This strongly indicates that God did not know – with absolute certainty – that Abraham truly feared God, until Abraham proved that fact, by being willing to sacrifice Isaac.

The passage in Jeremiah describes how God chastised the people of Israel, for their horrifically evil acts – including burning their own children to pagan gods. God tells them that not only did He not command those actions, but also that those actions did not even “come into His mind”. This indicates that God never expected the Israelites to do anything that evil – and that, in turn, implies that God did not know about those actions ahead of time.


Is the entire future “pre-determined”?

It seems to me that the underlying question to answer, for this entire topic, is the following: Is the entire future “pre-determined”? In other words, has God already foreseen every decision that we will make – so that all of our decisions are “foregone conclusions”?

If the answer to the above question is “yes”, then that means that there is absolutely nothing that anyone can do, to affect the future. In other words, every single decision that we will make in the future is “fixed in place” – so that we must make those decisions, when we reach the appropriate points in the future.

Think about that for a moment – if complete omniscience is true, then every single event in your life is already “written in stone”. For example, if God has complete omniscience, and if He has foreseen that you are going to put on white socks when you get up tomorrow morning, then you must put on white socks tomorrow morning – because if you put on black socks, then that would violate God’s complete omniscience.

Here is a more serious example. If complete omniscience is true, and if God has foreseen that you will murder a small child three weeks from now, then you must murder that child three weeks from now – in order to avoid violating God’s complete omniscience.

On another note, if complete omniscience is true – so that our actions can never affect the future – then that raises another question: Why should anyone bother to pray? After all, one of the primary reasons for prayer is to try to cause the future to turn out different that it would have otherwise – but the complete omniscience doctrine states that nothing that we do can ever affect the future.

Of course, in many places, Scripture implies that prayer does have the ability to affect future events. For example:

1 Timothy 1:2 (NASB):

1First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,

2for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

In other words, if we pray, then that will allow us to have a more tranquil and quiet life, than we would have had if we had not prayed. That is, our prayers can change the outcome of future events.

In addition, consider this verse:

James 5:16 (NASB):

16Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

The above passage also indicates that in some cases, our prayers can change the outcome of future events.

So, let’s see if Scripture gives us any clues, as to whether the entire future is “written in stone” or not:

Exodus 32:7-14 (ESV):

7And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'” 9And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”

11But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.'”

14And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

2 Kings 20:1-6 (ESV):

1 In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.'”

2Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying, 3“Now, O LORD, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

4And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: 5“Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD, 6and I will add fifteen years to your life.

Jonah 3:1-10 (ESV):

1Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. 6The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

All three of the above passages indicate to me that the entire future is not “pre-determined” – because in each of those cases, the outcomes of future events turned out different than God initially said they would!

In other words, in all three of those cases, future events had “not been decided yet”. That is, the outcomes of those events were still “changeable”, at the time that God made his pronouncements – and the outcomes remained changeable, until the affected people made their decisions.

As a result, it appears at least some future events have not been determined yet. In other words, the outcomes of some future events can still change, based upon the decisions that people make, at that time.

In fact, Scripture explicitly tells us that many future events have not been determined yet:

Jeremiah 18:1-10 (ESV):

1The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2“Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. 5Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6“O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

7If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.

The above passage tells me that the entire future is not “fixed in place”. Instead, many events – especially events involving God’s relationship with humans – have not been determined yet.

So, since some events have not been determined yet, that tells me that God does not already know the outcome of those events. In other words, in order for God to foresee an event with 100% accuracy, that event must have a definite, pre-determined outcome – and the passages listed above strongly imply that some events do not have pre-determined outcomes yet.


Two Alternate Doctrines

There are certainly some passages in Scripture, that appear to indicate that God has complete omniscience. However, there are some other passages that definitely indicate that God does not have complete omniscience.

In addition, there are many, many passages in Scripture which indicate that some events in the future are not pre-determined – and if a future event is not pre-determined, then it is not possible to know – with absolute certainty – the outcome of that event ahead of time.

So, from all of the above information, it certainly appears to me that God does not have complete omniscience. In particular, it appears that God does not already know about every decision, that every person, will ever make, in the future.

Of course, if God does not have complete omniscience, then the question becomes: How could God make any prophesies about people’s future actions? In other words, how could God make any statements about people’s future decisions, unless He has complete omniscience?

As noted above, God certainly can read our “hearts” – i.e., our current thoughts and desires. As a result, God can certainly determine what the actions of a currently living person are likely to be (whether He has complete omniscience or not) – since He can see the “heart condition” of any living individual.

For example, in Deuteronomy 31:16, God told Moses that the Israelites will turn away from Him, and worship pagan gods. God was able to determine this, because He was able to read the Israelites’ hearts. (Not only that, but the Israelites had already turned away from God, when they worshipped the golden calf – and as we all know, past behavior is a very reliable predictor of future behavior…)

There is one much more difficult issue to deal with, though. In some cases, God makes prophesies about people’s future behavior, when the people in question have not even been born yet! For example, as noted above, God prophesied that King Cyrus of Persia would allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem – and that prophesy was made 150 years before Cyrus was even born!

So, if God does not have complete omniscience, then how could He make prophesies about people who are not even born yet?

There are two main doctrines that I know about (other than complete omniscience), which try to answer the above question:

1. The “Voluntary Ignorance” doctrine: This doctrine states that God can see all of our future decisions if He wants to, but sometimes He chooses not to do so. In other words, God could have complete omniscience if He wanted to; but many times He decides to keep himself “ignorant” of future events.

This doctrine explains the Cyrus prophesy this way: God chose to see the future decisions of Cyrus – and that is why God could make a prophesy about him. However, God chose not to see the future decisions of Abraham – and that is why God did not know that Abraham feared God, until Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac.

The problem with the “voluntary ignorance” doctrine is that it means that the entire future is actually pre-determined! This is because in order for God to perfectly foresee a future event, that event must be pre-determined – and this doctrine states that God has the ability to perfectly foresee any future event.

So, in order for this doctrine to be viable, every single event – and every human decision – must actually be pre-determined. Of course, as mentioned above, there are many passages in Scripture which state that at least some future events are not pre-determined.

2. The “Divine Prompting” doctrine: This doctrine states that God cannot see all of our future decisions, because many of the events in the future are not pre-determined. However, in some cases God “prompts” people to do things – and that prompting results in His prophesies about people being fulfilled.

This doctrine explains the Cyrus prophesy this way: God “prompted” Cyrus to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem, after the 70 year captivity. In other words, God “put that idea” into Cyrus’ mind – and that, in turn, resulted in Cyrus allowing the Jews to return. So, since God knew that He, himself, was going to “prompt” Cyrus, that explains why God was able to make the prophesy about Cyrus.

The problem with the “divine prompting” doctrine is that it seems to violate our free will. Basically, if God “prompted” Cyrus to allow the Jews to return, then doesn’t that mean that God “took away” Cyrus’ free will – at least with regard to that one decision?

So, in order for this doctrine to be viable, it must be that at least in some cases, God “overrides” people’s free will.


Which doctrine has more Scriptural support?

The “voluntary ignorance” and “divine prompting” doctrines both provide explanations for the Cyrus prophesy – without claiming that God has complete omniscience. So, the question is, which of those two doctrines appears to have more Scriptural support?

Take a look at some additional information about the Cyrus prophesy:

Isaiah 45:1-6 (ESV):

1Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
that gates may not be closed:
2“I will go before you
and level the exalted places,
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,
3 I will give you the treasures of darkness
and the hoards in secret places,
that you may know that it is I, the LORD,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
4For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I name you, though you do not know me.
5 I am the LORD, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the LORD, and there is no other.

The above passage is a prophesy, which describes God’s future relationship with Cyrus. First, Cyrus is referred to as God’s “anointed” – that is, a person whom God has chosen.

In addition, that passage describes God “calling” Cyrus, “speaking” to Cyrus, “equipping” Cyrus, and even “grasping Cyrus by the right hand” – so that Cyrus will do God’s will.

That certainly appears to indicate that God is “prompting” Cyrus!

Of course, that still leaves us with a question – If God did “prompt” Cyrus – so that Cyrus would release the Jews – then didn’t that violate Cyrus’ free will?

I certainly believe that God gave people free will – that is, He gave us the ability to make our own decisions. However, in a few, very rare cases, it appears that God “overrides” people’s free will. Consider these two passages:

Deuteronomy 3:23-27 (ESV):

23“And I [Moses] pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying, 24‘O Lord GOD, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? 25Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’ 26But the LORD was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me. And the LORD said to me, ‘Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again. 27 Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan.

Acts 16:6-10 (ESV):

6And they [Paul and Timothy] went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

The passage in Deuteronomy tells us that Moses wanted to enter the promised land; but God prevented him from doing so. Of course, the main reason why God did not permit Moses to enter Canaan is because Moses had previously disobeyed God. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Moses wanted to enter Canaan, but God “overrode” Moses’ free will decision.

The passage in Acts states that Paul wanted to enter Asia, and he wanted to enter Bithynia – but in both cases, God (or Jesus) prevented him from doing so. As a result, in both of those cases, God “overrode” Paul’s free will decisions – in order to cause Paul to go to Macedonia.

So, it occurs to me that the situation with Cyrus may have been similar to the above examples. Basically, God’s “prompting” ensured that Cyrus would allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem – even if Cyrus did not originally want to release the Jews. That, in turn, explains why God was able to make the prophesy about Cyrus – 150 years before Cyrus was born!


Conclusion

Needless to say, the question of “how much of the future can God foresee” is an extremely complex topic. Here are the three main doctrines that I know about, which try to answer that question:

Complete Omniscience: God already has perfect knowledge, about every event that will occur in the future.

Voluntary Ignorance: God has the ability to know about every event that will occur in the future – but in many cases, God chooses not to know about future events. This explains why some passages in Scripture state that God did not know about some events, ahead of time.

Divine Prompting: God does not know about every event that will occur in the future – because many events in the future have not been determined yet. In other words, there are some future events that God cannot perfectly foresee – because those events do not have definite outcomes yet. However, in some (rare) cases, God “prompts” people to do things – and that prompting results in people doing God’s will. This explains why God can make prophesies about people’s future actions – even before people are born.

Overall, it appears to me that the “divine prompting” doctrine has more Scriptural support than the other two doctrines. Of course, that is just my own, imperfect understanding.

24 Responses to “Does God have “Complete Omniscience”?”

  1. on 06 Feb 2011 at 4:08 amRon S.

    Well done Brian!

    As a proponent of “Open Theism”, I’ve been wanting to write something on it for some time. But as you rightly pointed out – it is a “complex topic”.

    In my view for “free will” to be FREE, it must be that God doesn’t know it. It is not that He can’t know the future – I think God is so great that He knows ALL possible futures and has planned accordingly for them (like a master computer programmer). But our individual decisions – the exact decision is not something God knows for sure. I think the Abraham & Isaac incident proves that. This is what makes us free moral creatures. God knows what we will probably do at any given moment, but can be surprised by us (as shown in Scripture) because the exact future is not knowable for sure since it hasn’t come into existence as yet.

    This also can bring up the old question of is God “out of time” looking at it from his own non-time & space, or is He in time with us. It seems the classical view is that He is outside of it. But again I feel like the Biblical evidence is that He is in time with us – because the future is unknown until it exists. And just because God is eternal (always existed & always will), it doesn’t mean he isn’t on a linear time-line – after all, He may have made it that way in the first place!

    Heady stuff for sure. But fascinating none-the-less!

  2. on 06 Feb 2011 at 3:51 pmWolfgang

    Hi,

    after reading the article, I have a rather simple question:
    Does foreKNOWLEDGE (that part of omniscience regarding the future) = preDETERMINATION ???

    I think not …

    However, the various problems mentioned with the listed doctrines all sort of arise by a seeming equation of “knowing” with “determining / doing”!

    God knowing something about a person’s actions doesn’t mean that God has to do or somehow “fix” the person’s action, does it? If the person will do action “A”, God knows the person will do “A”, but does that mean that the person could not decide to do action “B”? No!! because if that were to be the case, God would know that the person will do “B”.

    I suppose the difficulty is also that the situations are being looked at from the basis of what is humanly possible to know > only present and past. In other words, the principle is “only what is happening or has happened is possible to be known” …

    Going by this principle one of necessity arrives at God also cannot really know the future, any future He predicts, He is either “lucky” that the people involved make those needed choices, or else He somehow has to “force” (or more lightly put “prompt”) people’s decisions to “fulfill” a prediction. But then, this paints a picture of a somewhat “imperfect” God Who also does not really let man to be the one to express a free will by making a free choice.

    As I mentioned at the beginning, I make a clear distinction between “know” and “do/determine” … and I do not have those problems which the listed doctrines try to solve

  3. on 06 Feb 2011 at 7:58 pmDoubting Thomas

    Brian,
    You have given us another excellent article full of valuable information to digest. I also agree with the second doctrine.

    “2. The “Divine Prompting” doctrine: This doctrine states that God cannot see all of our future decisions, because many of the events in the future are not pre-determined. However, in some cases God “prompts” people to do things – and that prompting results in His prophesies about people being fulfilled.”

    I think the following passages where God hardens the heart of Pharaoh proves the “Divine Prompting” doctrine is the correct one.

    Exodus 9:12 (English Standard Version)

    “But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses.”

    Exodus 10:1-2 (English Standard Version)

    “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, (2) and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.”

    Exodus 10:20 (English Standard Version)

    “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go.”

    Exodus 10:27 (English Standard Version)

    “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go.”

    Exodus 11:10 (English Standard Version)

    “Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.”

    I think this proves clearly that God (for his own purposes) can interfere with people’s free will, if he chooses to do so…

  4. on 08 Feb 2011 at 12:26 pmBrian Keating

    Hi Ron,

    I also agree that God can see all of the possible outcomes of future events. (I should have stated that more clearly.) However, I do not believe that God knows which specific outcome will end up occurring – at least, not when humans’ free will is involved in determining an event.

    Hi DT,

    Yes, it certainly appears that God was “prompting” Pharaoh, when he would not let the Israelites leave Egypt. The difficult with that example is that it appears that Pharaoh was doing something evil in that case. (Perhaps this was a case in which the “larger good” was accomplished, by Pharaoh not releasing the Israelites.)

    Brian

  5. on 08 Feb 2011 at 2:30 pmMark C.

    I have to agree that just because God knows what someone is going to do, it doesn’t mean He is determining it or forcing it. If He didn’t know the ultimate outcome of history (much of which is based on people’s choices) He couldn’t have foretold the things He foretold in prophecy.

    Isaiah 46:9-10 comes to mind: “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.'”

    Also, in my article on The Promised Land, I pointed out that not only did God warn the children of Israel that they could turn away and worship other gods, He specifically told Moses that they would in Deuteronomy 31:14-21. And yet He had told the people in the previous chapter that although it would happen, if they just turned back to Him, He would gather them from where they were scattered, and restore them to the land and the blessings that go with it.

    As for hardening Pharaoh’s heart, there is an idiomatic usage in Hebrew in which something is stated to have been done by God when it actually meant He allows it.  This is at least another possibility to consider in this case.

  6. on 08 Feb 2011 at 3:07 pmBrian Keating

    Hi Mark,

    Yes, indeed – just because God knows what someone will do, that does not mean that God is forcing the person to do it. I agree with that statement.

    What I mention in my post is completely different than the above statement. Basically, If God has already foreseen everyone’s decisions, then that means that all of our decisions are “fixed in place” – so that there is nothing that anyone can do, to alter the outcome of future events. In other words, this has nothing to do with God forcing people to make decisions – instead, it has to do with the outcomes of all future events being “unchangeable”.

    There are some passages which strongly imply that God did not know what people would do ahead of time – such as Genesis 22 and Jeremiah 7. In addition, there are numerous passages which explicitly state that the outcome of future events turned out different than God initially said they would. As a result, it appears to me that there are at least some future events which are not “fixed”.

    As far as God knowing the ultimate outcome of history – God certainly does know that; because God, himself, will bring that about. In other words, God will certainly establish the kingdom, regardless of what anyone does – and as a result, God definitely knows that that will happen.

    Brian

  7. on 08 Feb 2011 at 3:58 pmRon S.

    Mark,

    “As for hardening Pharaoh’s heart, there is an idiomatic usage in Hebrew in which something is stated to have been done by God when it actually meant He allows it. This is at least another possibility to consider in this case. “

    Exactly! God didn’t make Pharaoh’s heart hard, He allowed Pharaoh the freewill to harden his own heart.

    John Schoenheit speaks of this idiomatic Hebrew over on his Truth or Tradition site.

    http://www.truthortradition.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=1205

  8. on 08 Feb 2011 at 6:15 pmJonathan Tucker

    Our decisions and actions have future consequences. If the future is predetermined completely as in the classical view, then how is it possible for us to change? Like God, we can change our minds, midstream about the course we are taking and choose to change directions at any time. For example, God was sorry that He had made man, and destroyed all living things in the flood, save Noah. Didn’t God know that man would fail yet again? I’m quite sure He did, yet He started over anyway. This fits with His overall plan to redeem mankind through the agency of Jesus’ death on the cross. So it seems to me that there are points in prophetic history that God wants to accomplish something and expects us to follow through in obedience, as Jesus did to the will of his Father. I might add that perhaps every detail leading up to a future prophetic event is not laid out completely. And this is where man comes into play with his decisions/actions/prayers that may even prolong or shorten certain events (?).
    If the Israelites were mostly obedient would God have established the kingdom sooner? If Daniel wasn’t praying, would God have revealed less things to him? Do my prayers matter? Etc?

    Interesting stuff and great comments!

  9. on 08 Feb 2011 at 9:16 pmDoubting Thomas

    Brian,
    You said, “Perhaps this was a case in which the “larger good” was accomplished, by Pharaoh not releasing the Israelites.”

    That’s how I see it. In Exodus 10:1-2 it says, “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, THAT I MAY SHOW THESE SIGNS OF MINE among them, (2) and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, THAT YOU MAY KNOW that I am the LORD.” (Emphasis mine.)

    Not only did it show the Jewish people that God was THEIR LORD, it also made Moses great in the sight of the Egyptian people. In Exodus 11:1-3 it says, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Yet one plague more I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. Afterward he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will drive you away completely. (2) Speak now in the hearing of the people, that they ask, every man of his neighbor and every woman of her neighbor, for silver and gold jewelry.’ (3) And the LORD gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, THE MAN MOSES WAS VERY GREAT in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of the people.” (Again – Emphasis mine.)

    Further in verse 9 God says that by hardening Pharaoh’s heart HIS wonders will be multiplied in the land of Egypt. “(9) Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.'”

    Then God makes Pharaoh regret his decision so that even the Egyptians will come to know that HE is LORD. In Exodus 14:3-4 God says, “For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ (4) And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, AND THE EGYPTIANS SHALL KNOW that I am the LORD.’ And they did so.” (Again – Emphasis mine.)

    In order to fulfill this God hardens Pharaoh’s heart yet again further along in verse 8. “(8) And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly.”

    It seems clear to me that it was God that hardened Pharaoh’s heart in this verse, so that he could accomplish HIS goal, so that even the Egyptians will know that He is LORD. Of course I’m far from being an expert, but that is the way I read it anywaze…

  10. on 09 Feb 2011 at 3:40 pmMark C.

    What I mention in my post is completely different than the above statement. Basically, If God has already foreseen everyone’s decisions, then that means that all of our decisions are “fixed in place” – so that there is nothing that anyone can do, to alter the outcome of future events. In other words, this has nothing to do with God forcing people to make decisions – instead, it has to do with the outcomes of all future events being “unchangeable”.

    The problem with this whole subject is that it’s hard for us to conceive of what it’s like to know the future. But if you picture God as being above or outside of time, you can kind of understand that He knows how events will unfold and the choices we will make. Being omniscient, He also knows what the outcome of any other choices would have been. But we can’t know these things, so from our perspective our decisions aren’t “fixed in place” but still open to our choices. Yet God knows what choices we will make, and even knows if we will change our choice somewhere down the road.

    There are some passages which strongly imply that God did not know what people would do ahead of time – such as Genesis 22 and Jeremiah 7. In addition, there are numerous passages which explicitly state that the outcome of future events turned out different than God initially said they would. As a result, it appears to me that there are at least some future events which are not “fixed”.

    In Gen. 22, when God (through the angel) says, “Now I know that you fear God” it doesn’t necessarily mean God didn’t know how Abraham would respond. The word for “know” can also mean to recognize, admit, acknowledge, or confess. The chapter starts out by saying that God tested, or proved, Abraham.

    In Jeremiah 7, God was saying that the people had built altars and burned their sons and daughters, “…which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind” (verse 31). Does this mean that He didn’t know they would do it, or that He not only didn’t command it, but such a thing would not have entered His mind to command it? It couldn’t mean He didn’t know they would do it, because in Deut. 31 as well as other places, God told them through Moses that they would turn away to other gods and do wicked things.

    As for the outcome of events turning out differently than God initially said they would, many of the things God foretold were conditional, and when conditions changed, the outcome changed (such as Hezekiah’s death, for example). This in no way proves that God didn’t know what would happen. Future events are not “fixed” from our perspective since we don’t know the future, nor the many variables that would change the outcome. But that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t know what will happen. It seems to me that He knows what choices will be made, and plans for things in light of those choices. (As Thomas says, “That’s how I see it anywaze.”)

  11. on 09 Feb 2011 at 4:56 pmBrian Keating

    Hi,

    OK, here is one last item to note on this subject. As noted in the post, in many cases the outcomes of future events end up different than God initially stated they would. For example, God initially stated that Hezekiah would not recover from his illness – but Hezekiah actually did recover from his illness.

    So then the question becomes: did God already know – with absolute certainty – that Hezekiah would recover from his illness, ahead of time?

    If God did know, then that means that God initially made a statement that He knew was false – the statement that Hezekiah would not recover.

    In other words, it means that God initially lied to Hezekiah.

    Some people may claim that there was an “implied conditional” in God’s initial statement – i.e., some may say that the statement is actually “you will not recover – unless you pray to me.”  However, the passage does not contain such a conditional; it simply states “you will not recover”, period.

    Is God actually a liar? That is, does God tell us things that He knows are not true? One could make the argument that God does lie to us in some cases, in order to advance His purposes – but that appears to fly in the face of numerous Scriptural admonitions to always be honest.

    Brian

  12. on 09 Feb 2011 at 7:00 pmDoubting Thomas

    Brian,
    I agree that our Father by his nature would not be deceptive and tell a lie. Like you said it would violate numerous Scriptural admonitions to always be honest. I think of God’s character as beyond reproach. If HE wanted to do something. HE would somehow find a way that didn’t involve lying…

  13. on 09 Feb 2011 at 9:09 pmMark C.

    Again, we’re trying to explain God’s omniscience from our limited viewpoint. Like a parent trying to communicate with a child, many times God has to limit what he tells people, because they are not able to understand the whole story. But is that lying? I don’t think so. Not only does God admonish us to be honest, but the Bible also says that God cannot lie.

    With Hezekiah, God did not say, “you will not recover.” He just said, “you will die and not live.” But then Hezekiah prayed tearfully, and God had compassion on him and added fifteen years to His life. Does God change His mind about things in response to our prayers? There are Scriptures that imply that He does.

    Did God know He would change His mind? Here’s where we begin to go beyond what we have ever experienced and therefore what we can understand. Perhaps we should answer such questions like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof: “I’ll tell you. I don’t know.”

  14. on 09 Feb 2011 at 9:16 pmDoubting Thomas

    Mark,
    You said, “Perhaps we should answer such questions like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof: ‘I’ll tell you. I don’t know.'”

    That is very true that sometimes we just have to admit that we don’t know.

    BTW – Fiddler on the Roof is one of my favorite musicals… 🙂

  15. on 09 Feb 2011 at 9:31 pmBrian K

    I have considered this topic quite a bit lately and will share a few of my thoughts. My general impression from those who take to any given position is that there is usually a shallowness in the thinking through of their position.

    For many, it would seem that the conclusion is that God only pre-knows what He predetermines.

    For the Calvinist, God predetermines EVERYTHING, therefore God pre-knows everything.

    For the open theist, (which seems to me is usually put forward to be in opposition to Calvinism) God predetermines a few things, so God pre-knows a few things.

    Something else I’ve noticed is that that this topic usually comes up in relation to subject of theodicy. I have yet found any of these positions truly satifying (Biblically) in addressing this problem

    One thing I am certain of is that God knows what He knows.

  16. on 09 Feb 2011 at 9:35 pmBrian K

    Just for clarification, I am not Brian Keating

  17. on 09 Feb 2011 at 11:47 pmDoubting Thomas

    Brian K,
    I don’t remember seeing you post before. So, Welcome to K.R.!!!

    You said, “One thing I am certain of is that God knows what He knows.”

    I like that… 🙂

  18. on 10 Feb 2011 at 3:11 amBrian Keating

    Hi,

    The context of 2 Kings 20 indicates that Hezekiah will die from his current illness – but he does not end up dying from it.

    Also, God explicitly states that He will destroy (or consume) the Israelites, in Exodus 32 – but that does not end up happening.

    In addition, God explicitly states that Ninevah will be overturned (or overthrown) in 40 days, in Jonah 3 – but that does not end up happening.

    In my view, limiting the information that one provides is much different than making a statement that one knows is false.

    Brian

  19. on 10 Feb 2011 at 2:07 pmMark C.

    When God tells people that such and such will happen, with the result that the people change their direction and/or cry out to God and ask for mercy, it seems to me that the whole purpose was to affect that change. But if the end was predetermined, and there was never a chance that the first thing God said would happen, then one could say He made a “false statement” i.e., “lied.” This is impossible, however, since we are told that God cannot lie.

    On the other hand, if God didn’t know what would happen beforehand, He could not have foretold the sins of Israel and their consequences, as He did on several occasions.

    Perhaps there should be another category or doctrine in addition to the three in the article.  If we consider that God knows not only what will happen, but also all possible alternate outcomes, then that fits with the idea that what He warned the people about was one possible outcome, which would have come to pass had they not changed direction. Thus God knew what would happen if they didn’t change, what would happen if they did change, and whether or not they would change. This, to me, is the definition of omniscience.

    I should add that this idea sounds a little like the theory of alternate parallel universes in which things happen differently – a favorite theme in science fiction.  But recently I heard a discussion on the radio in which scientists are leaning more and more toward such a possibility (although we’re a long way from being able to prove or even fully understand it).  In any case, the bottom line is still, as Brian K so aptly stated, “God knows what He knows.”

  20. on 10 Feb 2011 at 4:00 pmFrank D

    Philippians 2:13:
    for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

    But we still have the choice to be obedient.

  21. on 11 Feb 2011 at 8:46 amBrian K (not Keating)

    In the Biblical accounts of Hezekiah and Nineveh, it seems to me that people put an expectation on the declaration of God that is not warranted. Just because the declarations of doom did not include some contingency (Hezekiah’s prayer, Nineveh’s repentance) that does not mean that it was not part of what God intended. Ever since Genesis, the actions of God have been expressed in relation to man’s action or response; obedience or disobedience. Even Jonah knew that though God did not include it in His declaration of Nineveh’s doom, if the people repented, God would not carry out what He had said.
    My point is that these records do not really point us in one direction or the other as it relates to this subject. They don’t inform us of “what did He know and when did He know it.”

  22. on 25 Mar 2011 at 7:58 pmRandy

    When God states he knows the end from the beginning, perhaps He is relating He knows what His purpose is, from the beginning of this world to the end thereof. He knows what He wants to accomplish, knows the time frame He wants to accomplish it, and therefore appoints a person(s) to carry out that (those) purpose(s). In the case of Ninevah, it seemed to be His every intent to make the city desolate because of the evil made known to Him. By sending Jonah to warn them of their pending doom, the people upon hearing the message acted upon themselves, by their own will, to turn aside, to repent and ACTED and did WORKS to show their contrite hearts. Because of their actions, God showed them mercy. Jonah, perhaps knowing of the possibility that by giving them the warning, knew of the power of that message. After all he was a prophet. He had already witnessed undoubtedly how such a message from God had caused others to turn from their wicked ways. Jonah was opposed to going because he didn’t want them to even hear the message perchance they did repent, because in his mind they were not worthy of such an opportunity because his knowledge of how evil they were.

    Again, it would seem, God has His purpose, He knows His intent for people and this world. Only He knows when He will send His son back to this earth to bring about His earthly kingdom.

    Regarding the twins Esau and Jacob. God knew she was having twins. But He had a purpose in mind regarding Jacob. Is there an instance in scripture whereby a man called by God, anointed by God, ever refused the call and ddi otherwise?? Jonah tried that and God turned him around, literally.

    I do not know how you classify my belief. But I do believe in the free will of man. I don’t think everything is already laid out, already planned, every decision already known. Calvin in that sense is way off base in my humble opinion. Of course he is misguided in numerous ways, fortunately, he is not living to read this or I too would burn to the stake.

    Who knows the mind of God? Surely as mere mortals we do not nor will we ever be able to. “He knows what He knows.”

    As to the Pharoah. I tend to believe God did indeed harden the heart of Pharoah in order to once again accomplish His purpose(s).

    Another question I haven’t seen debated is, could Christ when He was tempted in the wilderness by Satan, was it possible He could have yielded to Satan’s temptation and said, “yes,” I will worship you. Although He was sent to do the will of God, being human, was it possible for Him to say yes?

    I don’t have the intellect nor the writing ability as many of you to formulate that into a written debate, but would enjoy reading a response to it. In all ways He was tempted as you and me, yet He was without sin. What a marvelous accomplishment!!

  23. on 25 Mar 2011 at 8:34 pmRay

    Didn’t all of heaven (all that is called “God”, angels and such for example) see Abraham and how he got through his testing and trial
    with Isaac? Isn’t it then that they knew?

    I trust that God does know everything and all that will happen in his creation. He knows my thoughts before I think them.

  24. on 25 Mar 2011 at 9:48 pmDoubting Thomas

    Randy,
    You said, “Who knows the mind of God? Surely as mere mortals we do not nor will we ever be able to. ‘He knows what He knows’.”

    I completely agree with that.

    You also asked, “Another question I haven’t seen debated is, could Christ when He was tempted in the wilderness by Satan, was it possible He could have yielded to Satan’s temptation and said, ‘yes’, I will worship you. Although He was sent to do the will of God, being human, was it possible for Him to say yes?”

    I think the entire story of Y’shua being tempted would have been nothing but a sham, if Y’shua wasn’t actually really being tempted by Satan. So I think it is possible. But, I also think that God (“OUR” Father) knew Y’shua’s heart and knew that he had a heart after his Father in heaven, and that he would be able to withstand any temptations that Satan could come up with.

    It seems to me the temptation in the desert was like a right of passage for Y’shua, like when Abraham was tested to see if he would sacrifice his only beloved son Isaac. Both Abraham and Y’shua came through their tests with flying colors. Did God know that Abraham would go through with sacrificing his only beloved son???

    I think the answer is the same. God knew Abraham’s heart and knew that he had a heart after his Father in heaven, and that he would be completely obedient, even to the point of sacrificing his one and only beloved son. Just like he knew Y’shua would be obedient and not bow down and worship Satan.

    Of course I’m not an expert, but that’s how I see it anywaze…

  

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